Appioo Bar and Grill

Appigo Bar and Grill

A couple of years ago, I visited a Ghanaian restaurant in my neighborhood that was known for serving authentic fare especially the well-known Fufu dish. However, I was not quite satisfied by the cooking in addition to the long wait for the aforementioned soup dish.  Recently, I came across an online offer to Appioo Bar and Grill located in the U St./Cardozo neighborhood, and judging by what I read on online reviews, I quickly snapped up the offer, and I made a trip to pay it a gastronomic visit last weekend.

Ghanaian Palm DrinkLocated on the basement level of a row house on busy 9th street NW, close to the U St. junction, I walked in with a couple whose husband hails from Togo to get some guidance from him on this little-chartered culinary territory.  The shotgun space is decorated with a beautiful mural exuding some West African charm with its bright colors and design.  Having made a reservation, we took our table next to the long bar that seems to attract quite a local crowd.  After we placed our orders, my Togolese friend ordered Palm Drink, a typical libation from the Motherland.  One sip of it reminded me of the liquor toddy that I had tasted years ago as a child in Southeast Asia.  This bowlful, yes, a bowl perhaps made from wood or a gourd, had a unique flavor of sweet with a tinge of sourness from a slight fermentation but devoid of the booze that I remembered this drink is usually associated with.  Alcohol or not, it was a good starting thirst-quencher to this visit.

Goat Kebab/Chinchinga

For our first bite, we ordered Goat Kebab or Chinchinga.  The sticks came filled to the brim with slices of meat, dark from its cooking, and slightly reddish from a sprinkling of seasoning powder.  One bite into it revealed what it was.  The goat was slightly tough with a bare hint of gaminess, nothing that belies its true nature.  What made it rise above it was the savoriness in the morsels due to a peanut sauce marinade and the spicy powder (called “kebab powder” according to my friend) that created a slightly masochistic tinge that beckoned for more bites.  Their tasty nature made for a quick disposal by the diners which created more anticipation at our table.

Croaker Pepper SoupThe next appetizer came in soup form.  Delicious Pepper Soup is well-known in this culinary tradition and I knew I had to give it a try.  A sip from the bowl pointed to a well-cooked broth that hinted of dried fish that I am familiar with, giving the soup some body and flavor interest.  The pieces of croaker were very fresh and moist, an indication that the fish was freshly cooked to order.  Unfortunately, it was that fresh that it could have jumped into the soup without being scaled.  However, I got around it by just removing the skin.  There was some good spice bite to the earthy broth, but I was hoping for something that was eye-popping like my grandmother’s pepper soup.  All in all, this was still good.

Goat Fufu in Peanut Butter Soup

My friend’s order was Goat Fufu in Peanut Butter Soup.  It came served in an earthen traditional bowl with a ball of the pounded plantain starch in the middle, sitting in a pool of peanut butter soup studded with pieces of goat meat.  The fufu was the powder form, judging by the lack of starch-stretchiness normally found in the fresh version.  But it didn’t detract from the wonderful soup that had a light touch of peanut butter goodness without being overwhelming.  The pieces of meat were tender, for goat that is, an indication of a good stewing in the sauce, which made the dish even more appealing.  My friend originally didn’t want to order this ubiquitous dish, but at the end of his inhaling it, he was more than satisfied as it hit home for him, and he was about to go into a food coma.

Goat and Rice JollofHis wife’s order was something lighter and is as equally well-known as the above dish – Jollof Rice with Goat.  A stab at the pieces of goat pointed to the meat that was initially fried to a slightly crispy exterior then stewed in a tomato-based sauce. I enjoyed the meat texture that was complemented by the sweet-tangy sauce that was aromatic and tasting mild spice-wise.  Equally competing for my attention was the rice that was well-seasoned, tasting slightly sweet from the tomato sauce and onions, exuding vegetal notes of sweet peppers, and a note that was root or wood-like.  Upon talking to the chef, I found out that he added ginger to the mix.  Even though it was still mild, its savoriness made me return repeatedly to the rice elevated from the melange of flavors and cooked to a perfectly light fluffiness.

Grilled Tilapia and Spinach

My order of Grilled Tilapia was nixed somewhere down the line.  It was forgotten amidst some confusion, and it was quite a wait as the kitchen was trying to make amends.  Finally, it arrived whole and grilled, along with a tomato salsa and some spinach as my choice side order.  One bite into the fish brought a smile to my face.  The skin was crispy and had a slight waft of ginger, perhaps from a rub of ginger juice, and the flesh was incredibly moist and sea-sweet, pointing to its incredible freshness as if just caught from the sea.  The belly was filled with a savory grated ginger stuffing that added more perfume to the whole mix.  Usually one that is not particularly fond of Tilapia, I was instantaneously attracted to the mild-tasting flesh, devoid of most of its inherent muddiness, and its alluring seasoning. A good partner was the tomato salsa that was really piquant, making it a ying-yang complement to the mild sweet flesh.  The spinach mix blew me away with its fresh flavors from the mild-tasting spinach leaves paired with sweet onions, a healthy dose of garlic, sweet peppers, and biting pieces of fresh ginger.  There was a note of an unfamiliar spice that confounded me, but the tasty mix constantly beckoned me to go back for more.  Undoubtedly, this fish dish was so good that it washed away any trace of my impatient wait, and I couldn’t stop exuding about it.  I stopped the chef, as he sheepishly passed by me, to personally thank him for such a wonderfully prepared dish, as he apologized for the dish’s tardiness.  All was well here after this scrumptious meal.

Appioo Bar and GrillThe dishes at Appioo Bar and Grill have given me a fresh perspective on what this Western African cuisine is all about. What impressed me about this visit was the completeness in the seasoning and the savoriness that each morsel or sip possessed, making one unable to resist having more of each dish. Additionally, what impressed me about the kitchen, despite the slight hitch in my order, was a deftly skillful hand that knows proper seasoning, the sourcing fresh ingredients, and that understands balance and ingredient pairing to produce wonderful authentic dishes that would not only satiate those with home-sickness but equally impress all including the novice like me. Yes, the reggae band was overwhelming in this small space (note: eat before 9 p.m. on Saturdays), but ultimately, such impressive cooking spoke volumes above the music. I will be back for more.

Appioo African Restaurant & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chez Dior

Chez Dior

A cuisine that is amiss from my blog site, unfortunately, is from the African continent. The reasons are that I am slowly discovering the few establishments serving such cuisine that sparsely populate this area, and my ignorance of what that part of world offers gastronomically. Last year, I stumbled across a Ghanaian joint serving the popular Fufu (read blog), but it was just a mere foray into the wide spectrum of what African food is.

Ginger Juice and Bissap (Hibiscus Flower)For a couple of years, I had been eyeing Chez Dior in the revitalized Hyattsville, MD neighborhood ever since I noticed its space was being renovated for the opening.  Because of my suffering from amnesia and looking for the right dining companions to join me, I didn’t pay it my first visit until last month and after only being inspired by its favorable online ratings.  Walking through its doors, the space seems more spacious than its real estate, partly due to the glass storefront and the other being its high ceilings.  One wall is stuffed with a few banquet seating, while tables fill up the rest of the space.  Settling in, I felt comfortable and welcomed right away, while anticipating a new adventure into gastronomic terra incognito.  Our drink orders of Hibiscus (Bissap) and Ginger Juice were the perfect openers to the house’s offering. The bissap had hints of a slight sour tannin zing tempered by some fruit juice while exuding an interesting flowery note.  The ginger juice was close to pure ginger root but sweetened with a touch of pineapple juice, biting enough to wake up my senses and attack the sore throat I was nursing.  I would forgo a glass of water and order these alluring thirst quenchers with my meals due to their exotic qualities.

Fattaya - Minced Beef Pastries Accra - Black Eye Pea Fritters

From the appetizer section of the menu,  I recognized Beignets that I had eaten at some Cameroonian homes, and oddly, Vietnamese Spring Rolls (the result of Senegalese soldiers bringing wives back from the Indochinese war) which I noticed were properly made with rice sheets, not egg roll wrapper, and served with a fish sauce mixture.  However, I honed in on a couple of more authentic offerings.  The first was Fattaya.  The fried pastries arrived beautifully pleated (as well as my grandmother’s curry puffs), and greaseless to the touch.  One bite into the flaky dough was revelatory.  It was not made with tuna as listed on the menu, but with minced beef and bits of onions.  The level of savory moisture encapsulated by the pastry pointed to the bites made a la minute, which my companion and I appreciated while we quickly devoured these small bites.  The other appetizer was equally delectable – Accra.  The small dough balls are made from black eye pea flour and served with a spicy tomato sauce.  Biting into them, they had a clean taste from being perfectly fried in fresh oil, and the inside was amazingly quite light while giving off a soft corn bread texture affected by some proper seasoning.  The zesty sauce tasted freshly made, and it added the right amount of tomato sweetness and some spice to each bite.  I would not miss these two openers with my meal as they would build up some anticipation as they did at my table.

Jollof Rice

Yassa ChickenPlaying it safe one night, I ordered an often-heard and popular dish – Jollof Rice.  The plate arrived with some baked chicken, a mound of brown-hued rice, and accompanied by a side of carrot, cabbage, and boiled cassava/yucca.  The chicken tasted well-marinated and baked just right without being dry or falling apart too easily.  The star ingredient was the rice with broken grains that had a texture of bulgur wheat (not only a Vietnamese specialty), seasoned by the chicken sauce and some savoriness from Maggi sauce (verified by the owner).  However, it could have done some chili heat that I have tasted in some versions.  The side vegetables were very satisfactory with the carrots and cabbage cooked soft and exuding their vegetal sweetness, but unfortunately, the cassava was slightly undercooked in the middle.  On another night, we ordered Yassa Chicken.  Pieces of chicken came grilled and tasted slightly tangy from the lemon-based marinate, and sweetened by some caramelized onions.  My dining companions were devouring the pieces  due to the flavors and the grilled preparation. The dishes were well-prepared and tasty, just perhaps a bit safe in my mind, as I was seeking some gustatory adventure.

Thiebou Diene - Senegalese Stewed Fish Caldou

Based on some online reviewers’ recommendations, I decided to try Thiebou Diene, a traditional Senegalese dish.  The plate arrived filled with a stewed fish steak, the usual accompanying stewed vegetables, and a mound of red-colored rice.   Biting into the fish, I was appreciating the savoriness from the slow cooking and the slight firmness of the fish meat which exuded a richness which I was trying to ascertain – it turned out to be the rich Kingfish usually found in the Caribbean, which was not the usual house offering (no complaints here).  The rice was equally savory, having absorbed all the savory goodness from the fish and vegetable stew, which each spoonful was beckoning us for more.  I can see why this is the house’s signature dish due to the flavors and well preparation.  Caldou was the other fish order that night.  A whole tilapia fish has been marinated, grilled, and slathered with a sauce.  Usually not one for the muddy flavors of this type of fish, I didn’t mind it that much with this order due to its flavors from the marination and grilling, and the tangy onion-mustard sauce.  With these dishes, I was whisked away to the West African coast and they are definitely high on the list.

Dibi - Grilled Lamb Chops

The final main course was Dibi.  Pieces of grilled marinated lamb chops arrived with a choice of side, steamed Couscous in this case.  One bite into the meat reminded me of eating lamb chops as a child.  The flavors were spot on due to the proper marination, heightened by a stay on the grill that gave the charred notes to the rich meat.  The chops were quite thin, which made them not as moist as some would have like them to be, but I didn’t mind it at all since I grew up with these prepared this way.  The side of onion-mustard sauce not only added the moist element to the meaty bits but also notes of sweet tang.  The couscous was adequate but lacking some seasoning or the use of stock to elevate the grain to a more interesting mouthful.  But it didn’t deter me from that pieces of meat that just sang beautifully with each bite.

Finally, I have found an establishment that serves African cuisine that does justice to it.  The place may be a bit small, but it makes up with its warm sense of hospitality and the well-presented dishes that exude full flavors and proper cooking each one received, a sign of care and attention that would elevate any dish – this was evident in both appetizers, the grilled chicken, both fish dishes, and the grilled lamb chops.  All my dining companions, as well as I, were immediately impressed by this house’s offerings, and we will be coming back for more.

Chez Dior Senegalese Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cape Coast Cuisine

_6009819A year ago, I bumped into a Ghanaian restaurant located round the corner from a favorite haunt of mine. I was curious to what Ghanaian cuisine was about especially given the fact that my college best friend hailed from that West African country, and he had cooked me a couple of scrumptious dishes from his homeland on a few occasions. With that in mind, I invited a Ghanaian/Togolese friend to join me on the first of a couple of visits to Cape Coast Cuisine in Beltsville, MD.




_6009818_6009811On the first trip, I arrived with my said friend during lunch time. Right away, I noticed the buffet table near the entrance that struck my curiosity. Being a total novice, I was not sure what to order and I went for the default buffet line after having perused it with a quick glance. It was not the regular buffet line in which you help yourself, but one in which the customer is given only one serving from the line.  The offerings were Stewed Black Eyed Peas, Fried Plantains, Jollof Rice, Stewed Goat, Fried Turkey Tail, and Fried Fish.  There were some highlights on the plate that got my attention.  The Jollof rice was slightly moist, tasting savory and a bit spicy, with a slight depth of flavor from some caramelization.  The Black Eyed Peas really got my attention.  Not only was it cooked to the perfect soft consistency, but it exuded a certain sweetness from vegetable aromatics and a hint of tomato.  The goat was well seasoned but I would have preferred the flesh to be falling off the bone, which have made them more appealing.  The plantains were decent – you can’t go wrong with this ingredient here.  However, I found the turkey tail and fish to be bit ho-hum with its simple seasoning and dry from being overcooked.  The Shito Sauce was the saving grace to the aforementioned bites with its spicy, slightly smokey and sweet, and dried shrimp notes that added flavor and heat to the whole plate.  The side of fried Garri was interesting, pointing to the same use of the granular form of the Cassava root in the Brazilian national dish, Feijoada.


But I was still not satisfied from the first trip and I knew that I had only scratched the surface. During that meal, I noticed some expatriates eating other dishes that were from the menu and not served on the buffet line. On the second trip, I came with the same friend and another from Liberia. After perusing the menu and getting their recommendations, we ordered a couple of dishes. The first was Okra Stew and Banku since we wanted to add some vegetable to the whole mix. A large bowl arrived with the Banku on the side wrapped in plastic wrap. The stew was chokeful of the vegetable which lent some body and its slimy quality (in a good way) to the dish, tasting savory from its cooking with some goat meat and seafood-like from some boiled down pieces of fried fish. The lone piece of softened Scotch Bonnet Pepper exuded quite a bit of heat to the bowl that made it masochistically tempting.  The ball of boiled ground hominy was the perfect vehicle to scoop up the vegetables and meat mixture, while exuding a sour note from fermentation which made me reach for it to be eaten by itself.  A tasty vegetable stew for me indeed.


What I saw many customers order during my first trip was the widely eaten West African dish, Fufu.  The name refers to the cassava and plantain roots pounded to produce a starchy and stretchy mound.  Hence, any stew can accompany this beloved carbohydrate, and our order was made with goat meat, goat stomach, and Tilapia fish.   I had warned my dining companions of a possible long wait judging by what I saw on my first visit.  Meanwhile, we were provided a bowl of water with some hand detergent in preparation for the eating.  And quite a wait it was.  But the cooking time was spent more on stewing the soup made from scratch and not the making of the fufu as I had thought.  My friends concluded that the fufu was the powdered form, not the pounded tubers, albeit a decent rendition judging by its smooth texture.  The goat meat and stomach were not fall-off-the bone tender which was quite a pity since they tasted very fresh with a slight gamey quality.  The fish steaks were equally fresh and cooked perfectly, qualities that I appreciated even though it is not my favorite type due to its inherent muddy quality.  But it was the wonderful soup that brought the elements together with its savory, fragrant, spicy, and slightly sour qualities that made it completely sippable by itself. Now, I know why West Africans love this dish, and my friends overstuffed themselves on this occasion.

20150818_131759Although this was my foray into this West African cuisine in a restaurant setting, I must admit that I have found a veritable locale judging by the clientele patronizing this hidden spot and some of the dishes that impressed me with their flavors and textures. Yes, the buffet line had its highlights and some mediocre dishes, but I couldn’t get enough of that amazing black-eyed peas, tasty Jollof rice, savory goat stew (despite being a bit tough) and the irresistible Shito sauce. From the menu, the okra stew exuded a depth of flavor one wouldn’t expect from that simple vegetable, aided by that sour Banku that I couldn’t stop breaking pieces off. Despite the not so fall-off-the bone quality with the goat meat and stomach in the Fufu dish (a longer wait was definitely out of the question), I appreciated their fresh qualities as well as the fish in that full-flavored soup that made the pounded tubers, albeit a good powdered form, interesting beyond the level of pure starch. Watching my Africa-born friends enjoy themselves fed me on many levels as if this food were my soul food. Never mind the complaints online about the wait and meager service, but all reviewers agree that they were satisfied with the authentic offerings here –  I am on the same page as them.